BRUTAL GAME by Cara McKenna

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
BRUTAL GAME by Cara McKennaBrutal Game by Cara McKenna
Series: Flynn and Laurel #2
Also by this author: Crosstown Crush, Downtown Devil
Published by Self-Published on 11/22/2016
Genres: Erotic Romance, Romance
Format: eARC
Goodreads
five-stars
The long-awaited sequel to Willing Victim.

Eight months ago, Laurel walked into an underground boxing gym and found herself mesmerized by a stranger named Flynn—a man who fights hard and loves harder. Since then he’s taken her places where fear and curiosity clash in exquisite pleasure, where trust is the price of ecstasy, and in time their brutal games have become her kink as much as his.

But when real life intrudes and hard decisions demand action, will these two whose bond is rooted in fantasy take shelter in each other’s arms, or discover that lust is no substitute for a lasting commitment?

This review may contain spoilers for WILLING VICTIM. You could try to read BRUTAL GAME as a stand-alone, but don’t. The two connect together too well to only read one.

It’s no small task to write a story that people love. But to then, years later, write a sequel that is equally well received is an even more unlikely outcome. And yet BRUTAL GAME is that mythical unicorn – a follow up to the widely praised and highly influential novella WILLING VICTIM that not only lives up to the original but gives it extra meaning by extending and expanding what was a brief encounter to a full fledged Happily Ever After.

In WILLING VICTIM, a young woman saw a man who intrigued her, made the first move, and was rewarded with an experience so unexpected, so viscerally intense, that both she and the readers were forever changed. What she shared with the man might be romance, at least for the moment, but could become love, if only we could see what happened next. Now readers clamoring for more Laurel and Flynn have exactly that in BRUTAL GAME – the rest of their story and how they found the HEA we always knew they deserved.

BRUTAL GAME shows us both the best and worst moments of what Laurel and Flynn must confront before they can be truly happy together as a real couple, and it’s tougher and more complicated than anything they’ve dealt with before. The games they play in bed brought them together, but it’s real life and death that could tear them apart. We see what plagues them both in private moments and how they learn to communicate their emotional needs as well as their physical ones. It’s a tough read in parts, but entirely genuine and moving, with an ending as worthy as what preceded it.

If you were a fan of WILLING VICTIM, you have to read BRUTAL GAME. It’s the rare sequel that justifies the existence of sequels.

five-stars

A Love Affair to Remember by Jennifer Skully

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
A Love Affair to Remember by Jennifer SkullyA Love Affair to Remember by Jennifer Skully
Series: After Office Hours #2
Also in this series: Desire Actually
Also by this author: Desire Actually
on October 12, 2016
Genres: Romance
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-half-stars
What if one night ruined your whole life?

In one sizzling night of forbidden passion, Gloria King set fire to her comfortable life and watched it be consumed in the conflagration. The man who lit the match—Parker Hunt.

And now Parker is back.

More than five years have passed since Parker has seen Gloria, but the passion between them is undeniable. And he’ll do anything to have a new chance to get it right, if only he can convince Gloria to trust her heart.

Gloria has pieced her life back together after their forbidden night. But Parker is still the only man in the world with whom Gloria can never look for happiness, no matter how badly she might want it. If only she could resist his magnetism, forget the delicious taste of his kiss and the sweetness of his caress…

Can a single night of passion born in shame become a lifetime of love?

A copy of this book was provided by the author for an honest review at The Romance Evangelist.

Hooray, it’s the next book in Jennifer Skully’s new After Office Hours hot contemporary romance series! Regular readers of this blog may recall that the first book in this series – Desire Actually – was one of my favorite reads this year. This new book – A Love Affair to Remember – picks up not long after the previous one, telling the story of how two people get a rare second chance to be together after making a terrible mistake five years earlier.

We met Gloria King in Desire Actually, when she helped that story’s heroine get a promotion and office she deserved, earning the enmity of the company’s HR VP in the process. Five years earlier, Gloria had succumbed to a single night’s temptation with an attractive co-worker, and has been paying the price ever since. She quit her job and confessed to her unforgiving husband, taking all the blame for the wreckage of her marriage. Now divorced and living far away from where it had all gone wrong, she’s living a life deprived of love when the man she couldn’t resist and never forgot waltzes back into her life.

Parker Hunt was in a struggling marriage when he and Gloria enjoyed a single night of mutual pleasure while traveling for work. Unlike Gloria, he kept quiet about their tryst but still ended up divorced when his wife announced she was leaving him for another man. Parker knew he’d deserved what happened but hoped one day to reclaim the woman who still haunted his dreams. Now that he’s found Gloria, he’s going to make sure they finally get the happy ending they couldn’t have before.

One of the reasons I love reading this author is because her characters are frequently those who don’t often get their own HEA in current romance, namely people over forty. Gloria is in her late forties and Parker is slightly younger, but their age really only comes up in the context of having children, and after the end of her marriage, Gloria has already resigned herself to remaining childless. This author also handles the touchy topic of infidelity quite well here, which is remarkable considering both the main characters cheated on their respective spouses with each other years before the events of this story take place. For some readers, that would be a deal breaker from the start, but for me they both showed they’d regretted their actions and knew they’d been in the wrong. Indeed, so much of this story is showing how Gloria had punished herself much more severely than anyone that for me to do the same would be unfair.

Meanwhile Rhonda Baker, the HR VP who tried to ruin Jordana’s life, is now gunning for Gloria, and her machinations became increasingly annoying for me, even though she does help provide the impetus for Gloria’s epiphany about her need to stop punishing herself over Parker. It was made clear why Rhonda is seemingly allowed to run roughshod over fellow employees but I hope she’ll have her own day of reckoning in a future book.

Overall, it was great to be back in the offices of Brett Baker’s Silicon Valley startup, and I enjoyed seeing more of how the company’s front office gets their work done, as well as the scenes with Jordana and Grady from Desire Actually enjoying their newly public relationship. With A Love Affair to Remember, Jennifer Skully has upheld the excellence she set at the start and continues to keep me excited about getting to read the next book in the series.

four-half-stars

BasedonaTrueStorybyNormMacdonald

“Based On A True Story: A Memoir” by Norm Macdonald

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
“Based On A True Story:  A Memoir” by Norm MacdonaldBased on a True Story by Norm Macdonald
Published by Random House Publishing Group on September 20th 2016
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Entertainment & Performing Arts, General, Humor, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 256
Goodreads
five-stars
Wild, dangerous, and flat-out unbelievable, here is the incredible memoir of the actor, gambler, raconteur, SNL veteran, and one of the best stand-up comedians of all time.   As this book’s title suggests, Norm Macdonald tells the story of his life—more or less—from his origins on a farm in the-back-of-beyond Canada and an epically disastrous appearance on Star Search to his account of auditioning for Lorne Michaels and his memorable run as the anchor of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live—until he was fired because a corporate executive didn’t think he was funny. But Based on a True Story is much more than a memoir; it’s the hilarious, inspired epic of Norm’s life.

In dispatches from a road trip to Las Vegas (part of a plan hatched to regain the fortune he’d lost to sports betting and other vices) with his sidekick and enabler, Adam Eget, Norm recounts the milestone moments, the regrets, the love affairs, the times fortune smiled on his life, and the times it refused to smile. As the clock ticks down, Norm’s debt reaches record heights, and he must find a way to evade the hefty price that’s been placed on his head by one of the most dangerous loan sharks in the country.   As a comedy legend should, Norm peppers these pages with classic jokes and fondly mythologized Hollywood stories. This wildly adventurous, totally original, and absurdly funny saga turns the conventional “comic’s memoir” on its head and gives the reader an exclusive pass into the mad, glorious mind of Norm Macdonald.

Whenever I get into a romance reading slump, I turn to non-fiction to keep me going until I’m ready to dive back into reviewing. But as James Frey taught us (and Oprah) not that long ago, a memoir can be just as much fiction as fact, and should never be confused with autobiography. It was with that mindset that I happily dove into Norm Macdonald’s new memoir, one with the intentionally deceptive title of “Based On A True Story.” It begins with a disclaimer that every potential reader should keep in mind for what it does and does not reveal:

The stories in this memoir begin with the author’s recollection of events, which is – by his own admission – spotty. Beyond that, several names and identifying details have been changed.

Ninety-nine percent of “Based On A True Story” is exactly what you might expect from Norm Macdonald, which is to say it’s hilarious obscene bunkum. One should never try to analyze any memoir for what really happened and what is at best the writer’s embellishment, but I think it’s safe to assume that Lorne Michaels did not hire Norm for his ability to procure morphine and that Norm did not borrow a million dollars in cash from a fat man with artificial hair in the Nevada desert. I’ll also point out that the running joke of the purported protestations of Norm’s supposed ghostwriter is not only nonsense, but detracts from the joy of unfiltered Norm nonsense.

And yet…

There are some small but significant portions of this book that came as searingly close to real truth as one is ever likely to read in any memoir. For me those made the whole book a more valuable and memorable read than what I got from all the rest. They include both the introduction (“Found Alive in a Hotel Room in Edmonton”) and “The Final Chapter” (which it both is and isn’t). But the key chapters – the ones that kept me up nights – were the ones ostensibly about Norm’s childhood.

The first of these chapters starts simply enough, with Norm as narrator realizing that he needs to keep his friend awake as they speed towards Las Vegas for an as yet unrevealed mission. The initial feeling is one of obligatory exposition, since anyone would expect a memoir to mention the writer’s point of origin and how it shaped him. I was lulled into a sense of security by the beautiful way Norm describes himself as a small child on his family farm in the wilds of Canada and his stories of the old drifter who slept in a toolshed and worked for free because it was enough for him.

Then just when I was expecting the inevitable hilarity to ensue, Norm the narrator sprung the trap he’d set in plain sight and I gasped. Stephen King would be proud of how this bucolic tale suddenly became terrifying. Only this wasn’t fiction. Or was it? The opacity of the memoir format foils any attempt at fact checking, and for once, I am glad.

I see the cat, who’s licking himself and swatting horseflies with his tail as he lies beneath an improbably large maple tree that is blighted and dying. I look up the tree and see there is something up high too, hiding in one of the crooks of its reaching branches. Something that is watching.

And the back of my head hits the headrest as I see that the thing in the tree is me.

So even if memoirs aren’t your thing or Norm Macdonald isn’t your thing or reading a cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Mark Twain isn’t your thing, please consider “Based On A True Story” solely on chapters three through six. They’re worth your time and money.

five-stars

Downtown Devil by Cara McKenna

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
Downtown Devil by Cara McKennaDowntown Devil by Cara McKenna
Series: Sins in the City #2
Also by this author: Crosstown Crush, Brutal Game
Published by Little, Brown Book Group on June 21st 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Erotica, Fiction, Multicultural & Interracial, Romance
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Goodreads
five-stars
At the edge of thirty, Clare is feeling restless. Even though she's gainfully employed and pursuing her passion for photography, she can't shake the feeling that something's missing. Then she meets Mica. A perfect subject for her portrait exhibit, Mica is sexy, exciting, and everything Clare desires. One night with the charismatic stranger is all it takes to leave her craving more. But the intensity Mica brings isn't confined to the bedroom, and Clare wonders if this summer fling might turn more adventurous than she anticipated - especially as a curious energy starts to simmer between the two of them and Mica's handsome roommate, Vaughn. As the three-way tension mounts, Mica makes a sinful proposal. It's an invitation Clare can't pass up, and an erotic encounter she'll never be able to forget. Caught up between two irresistible men, Clare is about to get all the excitement she's been looking for - and then some....

Although the erotic romance trope of a ménage a trois (or more) has become more common of late, most still tend to exist in the fantasy world of fictional towns full of threesomes, foursomes, and beyond, so I tend to get really excited any time I can find one set in a slightly more believable version of reality. The first book in Cara McKenna’s Sins in the City series – “Crosstown Crush” – was one of those few truly excellent books which unflinchingly explored the consequences of a hetero couple seeking out another man to be their occasional sexual partner to fulfill the husband’s cuckold fantasy.

Now with her second book in the series – “Downtown Devil” – McKenna explores another variation of the ménage a trois setup with three previously uncommitted people who initially come together only for sex, only to discover that what they thought they wanted was something else entirely. Like its predecessor, this story features two men and a women, with one man acting as the catalyst to bring all three together. But “Downtown Devil” goes one step further, showing us how sexual desires aren’t always neatly defined and how a genuine love relationship can be found if we are brave enough to reach out for it.

Clare is turning thirty and tired of putting her happiness on hold. When she spots Mica in the coffee shop, her initial impulse is to ask him to model for her upcoming gallery photo exhibit featuring striking looking people of mixed race. But when Mica makes it clear he’d like to have sex with her, Clare throws caution to the wind, determined to live in the moment just this once. Their relationship is more booty call than it is model and photographer, but Clare is determined to let it play out until Mica leaves town at the end of the summer, if he doesn’t start to tire of her first. But then Mica brings his equally attractive roommate Vaughn into the bedroom with them, and that’s when things get complicated.

What I loved the most about “Downtown Devil” was how it never judges anyone in the story, no matter what happens. There are no true villains here, only real human beings with all their frailties on display. Clare might think she’s protected her heart, and Vaughn might think he’s protected his sexual identity, but only Mica is truly safe for he never allows anyone close enough to hurt him. The temptation for me to condemn Mica was strong, yet when Vaughn shared his knowledge of Mica’s past with Clare, I couldn’t help but understand. Ultimately it’s Clare and Vaughn who experience the most emotional growth, and seeing them bond in the face of Mica’s behavior was a special joy for me as an emotionally invested reader. But even Mica shows signs of improvement by the end of the story, which closes on an optimistic note for everyone’s future.

“Downtown Devil” is just as unflinching and level-headed a look at what can happen when a third person joins a couple for sex as “Crosstown Crush” and I loved it just as much. Together they make Cara McKenna’s Sins in the City series my favorite of the year so far as I impatiently wait for the next book to follow.

five-stars

EligiblebyCurtisSittenfeld

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis SittenfeldEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Series: The Austen Project #4
Published by Random House Publishing Group on April 19th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Women, Family Life, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 512
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-half-stars
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible tackles gender, class, courtship, and family as Curtis Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today. This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray. Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches. Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . . And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.Praise for Eligible“Even the most ardent Austenite will soon find herself seduced.”—O: The Oprah Magazine “Blissful . . . Sittenfeld modernizes the classic in such a stylish, witty way you’d guess even Jane Austen would be pleased.”—People (book of the week) “[A] sparkling, fresh contemporary retelling.”—Entertainment Weekly“[Sittenfeld] is the ideal modern-day reinterpreter. Her special skill lies not just in her clear, clean writing, but in her general amusement about the world, her arch, pithy, dropped-mike observations about behavior, character and motivation. She can spot hypocrisy, cant, self-contradiction and absurdity ten miles away. She’s the one you want to leave the party with, so she can explain what really happened. . . . Not since Clueless, which transported Emma to Beverly Hills, has Austen been so delightedly interpreted. . . . Sittenfeld writes so well—her sentences are so good and her story so satisfying. . . . As a reader, let me just say: Three cheers for Curtis Sittenfeld and her astute, sharp and ebullient anthropological interest in the human condition.”—Sarah Lyall, The New York Times Book Review “A clever, uproarious evolution of Austen’s story.”—The Denver Post “If there exists a more perfect pairing than Curtis Sittenfeld and Jane Austen, we dare you to find it. . . . Sittenfeld makes an already irresistible story even more beguiling and charming.”—Elle“A playful, wickedly smart retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.”—BuzzFeed “Sittenfeld is an obvious choice to re-create Jane Austen’s comedy of manners. [She] is a master at dissecting social norms to reveal the truths of human nature underneath.”—The Millions“A hugely entertaining and surprisingly unpredictable book, bursting with wit and charm.”—The Irish Times “An unputdownable retelling of the beloved classic.”—PopSugarFrom the Hardcover edition.

Now that the latest incarnation of The Bachelor/ette is back on the air, with its fictional behind-the-scenes counterpart UnREAL soon to follow, it’s seems fitting to be reviewing “Eligible” — a re-imagining of “Pride and Prejudice” that deftly incorporates elements from that classic as well as the aforementioned TV shows without being unduly beholden to any of its nominal source material. I’ll admit that I’m a big fan of Curtis Sittenfeld’s previous work, so I was confident that if anybody could pull off an updated story of Lizzie and Darcy, it would be her. And ultimately what she has produced here is a delightful and multi-layered story that can stand on its own without the P&P underpinnings.

“Eligible”, much like the Austen original, is a skillfully plotted story about a woman who stumbles on an unexpected love while trying to save her feckless family from themselves. The author’s decision to use a fictional dating show as the book’s primary catalyst may put some potential readers off, but I found it to be the perfect counterpart to the ongoing chaos of the Bennet family as a whole and Liz’s life in particular. In the absence of a tiny English town where everyone knows all the local gossip, it takes a tv dating show to alert Mrs. Bennet to the suitability of a visiting Chip Bingley for whichever of her single daughters she can manage to throw at him. And then as the Bennet family’s spiral into impending disaster gathers speed, it’s the TV dating show that helps keep the other characters moving through their predetermined paces as we watch Liz and Darcy meet, hate, and eventually fall in love.

Most of Romancelandia adopted the original Pride and Prejudice story as a romance long ago so it’s fair to ask if “Eligible” passes the same test. Well, yes. Liz’s relationship with Darcy, while perhaps not quite what Austen could have envisioned, is at the heart of “Eligible” from the moment they meet. and their lovely HEA had me wiping away happy tears by the end of the book. Together they are the relatively calm eye of the story’s hurricane as all other characters wreak their own sort of havoc all around, with the TV dating show always ready to prod everyone into action at any moment.

Those readers looking for cracks in the “P&P fanfic” aspect of the story should be fairly content with how the major characters are present and accounted for here. I was especially pleased with how the author chose to represent the villainous Wickham but won’t elaborate here in case you’d like to be surprised as well. The only slight issue I have in this regard was the plot line, if you could call it that, featuring Kathy de Bourgh as an elusive Gloria Steinem stand-in. Liz seems to spend half of the story trying to schedule an interview with the famous feminist, yet when they finally do meet, the Darcy tie-in expected by my inner P&P fan never really materialized. Still, it’s a minor quibble, and only confirms to me that while “Eligible” works well within Jane Austen’s original outline, it can and should be appreciated as an original creation in its own right.

four-half-stars

Desire Actually by Jennifer Skully

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
Desire Actually by Jennifer SkullyDesire Actually by Jennifer Skully
Series: After Office Hours #1
Also in this series: A Love Affair to Remember
Also by this author: A Love Affair to Remember
Published by Self-Published on 2/11/2016
Genres: Hot Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 240
Format: eARC
Goodreads
five-stars
What does a red-blooded, All-American male do when his wife asks for a divorce—by email, no less—claiming he's too vanilla in the bedroom?

He gets a sexy tutor for after-office-hours sessions, of course.

Enter Jordana Davis, a work colleague who offers to share the mysterious secrets of what women really want—Desire, Actually. Grady Masterson is more than willing to listen to every seductive suggestion.

He aces sexting and phone sex as the sparks start to fly between them. Then Jordana imagines that Grady could be the one she hadn't been looking for. If only he wasn't taking lessons from her to win back his wife.

How far would you go to win the one you love?

“Desire Actually”, Book 1 of the After Office Hours series, is a sexy, contemporary romance of approximately 65,000 words.

A copy of this book was provided by the author for an honest review at The Romance Evangelist.

If you follow me here or on Twitter, you should already know that Jasmine Haynes is one of my very favorite erotic romance writers. What you may not know is that she also writes slightly less explicit but still wonderfully steamy romances under the name Jennifer Skully. I’d already been meaning to check out her books under that name, so when the opportunity came along to review the first book in her new After Office Hours series, I was all over it.

“Desire Actually” gets its name indirectly from the movie “Love Actually” but even if you’re not a fan of that particular movie (I’m not) you shouldn’t let that keep you from reading this wonderful story of how its hero’s lessons in desire also taught its heroine the power of true love.

Grady Masterson is an honorable man both in business and his personal life. Yet he never realized how his business had overtaken his life until his wife asked for a divorce via email. Now that he’s decided to fight for his marriage where it went bad – in the bedroom – he needs someone like Jordana Davis to teach him about the power of sexual desire.At first it seems lucky for Grady that desire all Jordana wants about after a life filled with disappointment in love from everyone she’s ever counted on. But when explosive desire threatens to upend their lives in and out of the bedroom, it’s love that saves them both from settling for anything less.

Knowing that a Jennifer Skully book would be less sexually explicit had me cautious at first with “Desire Actually” but my concerns quickly evaporated by Grady’s first lesson in desire with Jordana. Together they are the perfect blend of hot and sweet as we see Grady not only learn why his marriage failed, but eventually why it was never going to work in the first place, and why someone like Jordana should be his future instead of trying to fix the past. As for Jordana, we get to revel in her stories of past desire without judgment as both she and we discover why Grady is the one guy who can teach her how to trust in love again.

As with her Jasmine Haynes stories, Jennifer Skully is quite adept at writing a hot secret office romance, providing all the background characters we need to provide the underlying sense of danger at the possibility of discovery. And as a romance reader who does not want to read about cheating characters, I especially appreciated how it was made clear that Grady has been and continues to be physically faithful to his wife for as long as a potential reconciliation exists. Some readers might not care about such niceties but I do, and that helped make “Desire Actually” an even better read for me than I had anticipated. I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.

five-stars

The end of April is still April!

Hey there! Remember me? I’m back! And it’s even still April, like I promised!

As you may have surmised, I’ve had a wicked case of reviewer burnout since, oh, sometime last fall. What you may not know is that I’m also dealing with actual reading burnout, as in I’ve only read 5 books since the beginning of the year. Yeah, yeah, the struggle is real, but it’s been humbling for me. Part of it has been the ongoing adjustment to working full time again (in a job I love!) but the rest was just an inevitable reaction to the explosion in romance ebooks and my attempt to read anything and everything that sounded good.

In any case, I did set April as the end of my blog hiatus, and I’m honoring that commitment with a whole extra day to spare. In the next two days I’ll be posting reviews for my most recent reads, and I’m pleased to confirm in advance that all of them are quite good and worth the time I spent reading them. I also hope to get caught up in many of the other titles I missed reviewing in the past several months, with the caveat that I’ll be trying to pace myself to avoid a repeat burnout. With that in mind, I’ll also be declaring a modified variation of NetGalley bankruptcy on titles that are a year old or more, with my sincere apologies and understanding if future titles aren’t as readily available as a result.

But enough about me and my blogger blathering. I hope you will continue to visit and enjoy what gets posted here in the future with my sincere thanks.

Review: Mastered by Maya Banks

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
Review: Mastered by Maya BanksMastered by Maya Banks
Series: Enforcers #1
Published by Penguin Publishing Group on December 29th, 2015
Genres: BDSM, Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Goodreads
two-stars
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Surrender Trilogy and the Breathless Trilogy knows what makes readers hot. Now she turns it up in Mastered, the explosive first book in a new series of a desire too dangerous to resist.   What he wants, he takes with no remorse or guilt.   She stood out in his club like a gem, unspoiled and untouched. A lamb among wolves, she clearly didn't belong. Drawn to her innocence he watched as she was surrounded by men who saw what he did--but no one but him could touch her. He summoned her to his private quarters. He sensed her fear. He also recognized the desire in her eyes. And he knew she wouldn't leave before he possessed her. She had no need to know his secrets. Not until he had her under his complete and utter control.   What he wants, she isn't sure she can give him.   The moment he told her want he wanted, she couldn't resist. Instinct told her to run, but her heart said stay and walk the fine line between pleasure and pain. Though she wasn't sure she could ever completely surrender, the primal part of her wanted to try, even knowing this man could break her in ways she never imagined. Because once he possessed her, he owned her and it would be too late to turn back. She can only pray that he doesn't destroy her in the end.

Warning: This review contains spoilers for Mastered. The major one is in a spoiler space section, but if you don’t want to know any actual details about this book, stop reading now.

Some people on the Internet seem to think that we amateur book reviewers love to write nasty negative reviews about books just for the evil fun of it. The reality, however, is entirely the opposite. And when the book in question is by a beloved author, the feeling isn’t so much glee as it is intense sadness and disappointment.

It is with that feeling of great dismay that I am writing this review. Mastered is the first book in the new Enforcers series by Maya Banks, one of my all time favorite authors. I’ve read and enjoyed so many of her erotic romance series that I jumped at this review opportunity even though this blog is still technically on hiatus until next year. And yet Mastered is such a huge departure from what I have come to rely on in a Maya Banks erotic romance that I’m still reeling at how very wrong it went for me.

The premise of Mastered is simple and familiar:  innocent heroine crosses paths with dangerous dominant hero who must have her at all costs. Evangeline was seduced and abandoned by a no-good jerk and now she’s at Impulse, the hottest club in town, to prove she’s over him. But when the no-good jerk shows up to physically confront our heroine, the all-powerful club owner Drake Donovan comes to her rescue, only to capture her for himself until it all goes horribly wrong at the end of the book.

Wait, what? you say. Horribly wrong? Well, yes. Because Mastered ends on a wrenching cliffhanger and you’re going to have to wait until the next book is released to get the rest of Evangeline and Drake’s story. This information was posted on the author’s Facebook page earlier this year, but it isn’t anywhere in the book listing or promo materials. To her credit, she has included a lengthy explanation/apology at the end of the book, and I recommend you read it before deciding whether or not to continue with the story itself.

But honestly, for me the incomplete story wasn’t the main reason Mastered was such a disappointing read. There are two more compelling reasons, one of which appears in a spoiler tag further down. But the other one permeates the entire book so thoroughly that even if the story was complete, I’d still have problems recommending it.

For in Mastered, our heroine Evangeline is presented not as a normal human adult woman with both positive and negative attributes. Instead she is the perfect combination of Pollyanna, Marilyn Monroe, and Mother Teresa that no man (other than the no-good jerk who took her virginity for kicks) can resist. She projects a relentlessly positive attitude no matter how dire her situation, yet is constantly in denial about how every man (except that one guy) is drawn to her innate goodness and powerful (yet entirely innocent) sexual allure. She immediately agrees to give up her impoverished yet independent life to a man she’s known for about fifteen minutes, one whose first interaction with her is to engage in heated oral sex in his office after rescuing her from the no-good jerk. And as every man (other than the first guy) continues to fall at her feet throughout the story, every woman is compared to our heroine and found wanting.

This, in a nutshell, is the main problem I had with Mastered —  that Evangeline is constantly presented as the epitome of acceptable womanhood and every other woman in the book (other than her mother in a brief cameo) is presented as not worthy to kiss the heroine’s feet. Indeed, the first time we see our hero, he is forcibly removing a woman from his club who had bribed one of his workers to sneak her in so she could throw herself at the hero, calling her a skank for good measure. Then when the no-good jerk who deflowered and dumped our heroine appears at the club with his new squeeze in tow, she’s just as awful and unsavory as the woman tossed out by our hero only moments earlier.

This insidious attitude toward other women would annoy me in any romance novel, but in a Maya Banks book it was especially disappointing. In so many of her other erotic romance books, notably the Sweet series and Breathless series, the heroines all had great women friends who were just as worthy of being liked and admired, and who often ended up as heroines themselves. But here in Mastered, other women who are not blood relatives of the heroine are denigrated and tossed aside when they’re no longer needed. The worst example of this occurs just after one of Evangeline’s former “best friend” roommates warns her in no uncertain terms not to get mixed up with the hero. Instead of the hero sharing his own doubts about whether he’s capable of being a good person for the heroine (which we already know about from his internal monologues), he declares the former BFF to be a “jealous bitch.” Yet the heroine wouldn’t have even met the hero if that same “jealous bitch” hadn’t magically acquired a VIP pass to Impulse and given it to the heroine. This distinct lack of respect for any women who aren’t the heroine is simply not what I’ve come to expect and enjoy in a Maya Banks book, and I’m still distressed about how prevalent it was in this one.

There are a lot of other reasons why Mastered didn’t work for me, such as how every deadly henchmen on the hero’s staff instantly declares himself ready to save the heroine when (not if) the hero screws things up with her, or how both the hero and heroine spend more time in long internal monologues on how they feel about their situation than they do actually sharing those feelings with each other.

But all those pale to the other reason why I cannot recommend Mastered, and as the catalyst for the cliffhanger, it’s the biggest spoiler of the book.

 

SPOILER SPACE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hero has unsavory gangster types coming over to his apartment for a private meeting so he convinces the heroine to go out with her ex-roommates for the evening to keep her safe. But when her ex-roommates understandably don’t want anything to do with someone who had ditched them completely since she’d met the hero, the heroine decides to surprise the hero by cooking a full gourmet dinner for him and his associates. After all, he never told her they were too dangerous for her to meet, so why shouldn’t she? When they arrive to find her waiting, the hero decides the best way to keep her safe is to not only verbally assault her in the worst possible way, but also to force her to fellate him in front of the other men.

That’s right – the hero sexually assaults the heroine to protect her from additional sexual assault by others.

Then after they all depart to eat dinner elsewhere, the heroine leaves the hero to take a job at a hotel run by the sister of the doorman at the hero’s building, the doorman being yet another random man who has immediately fallen for the heroine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

END SPOILER SPACE

This was the last straw for me and Mastered. Your mileage may vary, but everybody has their hard limits on what is acceptable in a romance novel, and that crossed the line for me in no uncertain terms. If the rest of Evangeline and Drake’s story had been in this book instead of continued in a future one, I still wouldn’t have read past where this book ends. Thanks to the nature of this cliffhanger, I have absolutely no interest in how the hero and heroine recover from what has happened between them. I can only hope that future Maya Banks books will get back to what has always made them great for me before – a hero and heroine with a genuine loving relationship in a world where both men and women are valued equally.

 

two-stars

Let’s call it a “blog sabbatical”…

As much as I’ve tried convincing myself otherwise, I need to step back from regular book reviewing for a while. You may have noticed that I haven’t posted any reviews in a few weeks. While at least part of that can be attributed to my baseball team being in the playoffs again this year (LET’S GO ROYALS!) the rest is what I can no longer deny is a full-blown reading slump.

So I’ve closed the blog to new review requests, though I hate having to do so. I still have several reviews owed to various people and publishers between now and the end of this year, and my intent is to get those out the door as quickly as possible. However, they may not post particularly close to the book release date, and for that I apologize in advance.

Once those reviews are posted, this blog will go on hiatus until April 1, 2016. It’s a distinct possibility that publishers and authors won’t wait around for me to get my reading mojo back, and I totally understand if they don’t. But I need my reading to stop feeling like work, and the only way I can see to getting there is to step back from active reviewing for a while.

I’ll still be available for beta and proofreading on a case by case basis. And I’ll still be on social media to share my opinion about books and baseball just like always. I look forward to seeing you all there.

Review: It’s A Wonderful Wife by Janet Chapman

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: It’s A Wonderful Wife by Janet ChapmanIt'S A Wonderful Wife on August 25, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Romantic Comedy, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Goodreads
three-stars
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Spellbound Falls novels comes a delightful new romance set on the coast of Maine…

Jesse Sinclair and his two brothers spent years dodging the women his grandfather threw in their path. But then the matchmaking old wolf died, and his brothers did the unthinkable: they ran off to Maine to get married.

Now Jesse wants to join them. Convinced the Pine Tree State must have another eligible woman to spare, he buys a small island just off Bear Harbor to build a home for his future family. But as he discovers, finding the woman of your dreams isn’t as easy as his brothers made it seem. First of all, the only woman capable of filling those wedding shoes is Cadi Glace—and unfortunately, she’s already engaged…

So imagine Jesse’s surprise when he finds the aforementioned Miss Glace hiding out in his camper, charmingly, adorably drunk. And apparently single….

Janet Chapman is an author I’ve been reading off and on for a while now, and although her heroines often nearly cross the line for me in adorable wackiness, I’ve enjoyed reading most of her contemporary romances. I read the first two books in her Sinclair Brother series back when they were on the Scribd ebook subscription service, and liked the premise of the beloved grandfather setting up his three single grandsons to find true love with the women of his favorite area in Maine.

Unfortunately this third and final book in the series – IT’S A WONDERFUL WIFE – takes all the wacky adorable charm of the others and turns it up to a level so high that it was all I could do to make myself finish reading instead of throwing the book (figuratively) against the wall in frustration. Everything I loved about the other books is made nearly unbearable here, especially the laughable attempt at a suspense plot which ended up being told more than shown, including its completely unsatisfying resolution which seems to be an offscreen afterthought.

Our hero Jesse Sinclair is jealous of his brothers’ happiness with their own adorably wacky Maine wives so he decides to build the perfect family home in an isolated wooded area in the hopes that he’ll soon find the perfect wife to fill it with the perfect family. This leads to his impromptu meeting with Cady Glace, her adorable wackiness attracting him instantly even as he discovers she’s already engaged. But all is not as it seems with that, and her supposed fiancé, and which one of them actually designed the house he’s having built in the Maine woods.

If this sounds at all convoluted, then you get an idea of how this book went for me, and how I became increasingly frustrated even when I was already making allowances for a certain level of unbelievability based on my experience with the previous books in the series. Add to that the need to keep track of dozens of secondary characters, some old and some new, and an extra dollop of magical realism at the very end, and it’s no wonder IT’S A WONDERFUL WIFE left me more annoyed than entertained. I would normally say that you should read the other books before attempting to read this one, but honestly, just read the other books and leave this one be. I’m not sorry I read it because I did like Jesse Sinclair and was happy to see the previous couples turn up one more time. But if you’re not prepared to constantly roll your eyes while keeping a spreadsheet updated with a constant parade of additional characters, then IT’S A WONDERFUL WIFE is probably not the book for you.

three-stars